There was no need saying that almost everyone I knew had an idea of what they wanted to do with their lives; those who wanted to be lawyers, artists, even politicians, knew what wanted with their lives. Everyone, except me, had already discovered their niche in life. This left me in a precarious position as these ones around me felt they were at liberty to offer their various opinions of what they thought I should do with my life. The society I grew up in did nothing to better my cause, as there were select fields for only a select few.
It was probably because I was so good at all the subjects—well, almost all, but you get the point—that made people to really throw in ideas of what I have to be.
“I see you becoming a doctor,” one said.
“This boy is definitely a lawyer,” another opined.
“Well, as for me, I think he will be an engineer. Just check his Maths and Physics grades, they’re superb,” the next one cut in.
Someone even suggested being accountant. I seriously had to laugh at that one. I never liked the profession. My mom even nicknamed me ‘Prof’, because of her desire to see me attain the highest echelon of educational achievement. The only respite I got was from my dad. He was just concerned about my grades. “Are they good son? Just do your best.”
Did you notice that all the things suggested by them were the ‘elite courses’? A reminder of the kind of society I live in; nothing else would do. I guess that was why I had to be the best in all. Till the time I had to choose, which I somehow figured would be problematic; I’d been so good at almost all the subjects, how could I choose one field and neglect the others?
But just before I could make the long awaited choice; the decision of a lifetime; the one that was to hoist the mast and set sail for my future, I fell in love. And I liked it then because it was a welcome distraction. She was a welcome distraction. I had been bored for a while, so the love of a thing was just perfect.
As for the career decision, the majority won. I went into the science class, specifically the medical side. The rest were so disappointed: “You won’t offer art and literature classes anymore? Why? But you were doing so well in them.” It was a majority-wins-all situation. My hands were tied. The doctor in me was shaping up, but love had something else in store for me.
Her school was in the same vicinity as mine so we got to spend a lot of time together. We created so many memories together; playing, arguing and gossiping —the gossip was the best. We would talk about everyone, commenting on who dated who, which teachers were going out together, and passed judgment on how long these varied relationships would last. I’d not said anything about my feelings for her; I just took it for granted that she knew: why would she be that close to me if she didn’t feel the same way?
She also taught me something those who saw me as a doctor frowned at: the art of story reading. I call it an art because it is a form of expression; you immerse yourself in a character and live an entirely different life. I can still remember the first novel I read: Gracy Osifo’s Dizzy Angel. It had a lasting impression on me because of the love story it talked about.
While it was true that I was more occupied with novels than my textbooks, my grades did not suffer. It was a paradox that confounded everyone; they all eagerly awaited the slightest trough in my grade chart so they could have reason to crucify the foreign books I had recently occupied myself with and perhaps the girl too.
They should not have worried, for their prayers were about to be answered. It was around the time we were to go into the university and all the students were quite was excited. I’d planned to go to the same school with her, wanting to be forever by her side. But I had to do something first, something costly. We were discussing different schools one day, when I let out the bombshell:
“I love you,” I said.
For a fleeting moment, her face darkened, and then it was gone. “Thank you,” she replied, smiling at me. That was easy. Why did I waste so much time? We spent the rest of the day reviewing options, and coming to no final decision, we decided to meet another day to finalize the decision.
That was the last time I saw her for the next four years. Of course I didn’t understand why she would just vanish without as much as a reason or a simple goodbye. Courtesy demanded that, right?
That was when the decline started. It was so negligible, so silent, most of them did not notice. But I did notice; I just took no heed. I was just sad— just that, sad. I spent many a day lost in myself, and wondering how a simple profession of love could have terminated the most important relationship in my life.
Final exams approached. Everyone was in a frenzy of reading. The eyes of my mates were bloodshot from reading all night; mine from crying all night. The simple truth was that I was lovesick. I could not muster any enthusiasm for anything else. Well, we took the exams, I passed—not so spectacularly as expected—which caused questions and queries to jump out from any and every angle. I wasn’t concerned.
Sorrow is a poison that kills; its effects while slow to act are deadlier. You’ll just wither from within. Like all poisons, it needed to be flushed out. And that was how I started my diary entries (which would later form the basis for my first book). Keeping a diary can be an interesting release and also a bitter reminder of the past. It was like surgery without an anaesthesic. Just raw. Initially, the entries were just scribbles done in fury; without clear thought, I blasted everyone, myself, and most especially, her. Looking at it now, I smile. Indeed the darkest hour is just before dawn.
But dawn was far away. I was just into the night. The time came for university education, and finding no other interesting course, chose Pharmacy. Probably because I was used to medicine of a different kind. What do you think? But alas, my scores could not get me Pharmacy, so I landed in Biochemistry.
“What is that?” my mom had asked, “Is it a new course?”
“I surely hope you are not thinking of accepting the admission. C’mon, you can surely try again next year!” another had suggested.
“Bro, I would suggest you take the one you saw. I mean Biochemistry is not bad. You might like it. You have to keep moving” that was my friend saying that.
In the end, I accepted the admission. By then, I had already known I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. I wasn’t that strong, those doctors, they’re strong—taking care of sick people, that’s a big job. Which I can’t do.
And I met Biochemistry, a course that demanded more than I could give, or care to give. She—Biochemistry—demanded for everything, your time, thoughts, money, everything; it was like being married, only she didn’t talk. The decline, which up till now had been almost imperceptible, became glaring, causing quite a stir. Nobody believed what the charts were showing; the perfect grades were nowhere to be found. In their place were scores that could best be described as mediocre.
Finally, I began to care about the grades, if not for anything, and then for the sake of my parents, who had always given me their best. Yet, as much as I tried getting back on track, it just did not work. I employed different tactics for reading, all yielding little results. The damage, as I feared, was beyond repair.
To say that I hadn’t tried forgetting about her would be a big lie; I did try to forget about her, especially after a best friend said pointedly that I was in an academic ravine caused by a girl I’d last seen for years. While I had already admitted to myself that part of the reason my academics were in a state of decline was because she was hardly out of my mind, it was terrifying hearing it from another person. Was it that bad now?
So I decided to face the marriage I was into. I doubled my struggles, all with low enthusiasm. I felt too strongly, a force pulling me off course. Towards something that had brought me relief. At first I ignored the pull, hoping to give it enough indication to let me be. I was, for the moment married! But it seemed to mirror my zeal for refusal. The more I refused, the more it beckoned.
The time I finally decided to allow the force to show me why it called out to me, I discovered something I already knew but did not want to believe—I loved writing. Not in the glory-seeking manner, but as a way of finding release and relief. It was a soothing balm unto the stinging bite of love, a means of connecting to the countless authors I’ve read their works, and also an avenue of bringing her close to me. Now, more than diary entries, I characterized her.
Most of the time, when we go through struggles, we think ourselves alone. I thought so too. But as I started writing more and more, I gave some of my course mates the works to read. I had hoped that they would tell me what a fool’s expedition it was for me to write, at least that way, I would face my academic pursuit squarely. Instead, they encouraged me to write the more, and offering positive criticisms. Buoyed by this, I invested more time in improving my writing and finally making an arrangement with Biochemistry that seemed to work for the both of us.
You remember what I said about the darkest hour being just before dawn? I was just into that part of the night. It came so unexpectedly that I was sent into a writing coma. As it happened, I was just ambling through the night, thinking myself a few walks away from daylight when I stumbled upon the darkest time of my life.
It came in the form of my first and only love. I found her, or more aptly put, we found each other. I was traveling home for a short break when I saw her at the park. The shock of seeing her must have been so evident on my face, because she let out a guffaw. She was still her jolly self. Since we were going in opposite directions, we exchanged contacts and went along on our different journeys.
For the next year, my final year in school, I was happy, so happy even Biochemistry was surprised. In fact, everyone was surprised. It was not that my grades returned as they were before, but there were significant changes. I knew it was because I found her; talking as we did before, though mostly over the phone. It was just a happy period for me.
Sadly, it was not meant to last long. After six months of the reunion, I felt we’d been back for a sufficient amount of time to raise the topic of my feelings again. But first, I had to find out why she vanished the first time.
“Frankly dear, I was very shocked. I just didn’t expect it. And I was not ready for such feelings,” she said.
“You could have told me. Was that the only reason you disappeared?”
“I acted immaturely. I am sorry.”
I still did not understand it fully, but I let it go. Feeling that we were past the issue, I proposed my love to her again, praying she wouldn’t react badly. Surprising, she didn’t. Instead she told me that she would give me a reply in a week’s time.
The following week, my degree exams commenced. I knew that despite the problems I’d had with Biochemistry over the years, I had to make this exam count, I had to give it my best. Also I was waiting for her reply. When it came, I felt as if it would have been better if I had been executed with a guillotine. At least I would have been dead. The night I got her reply, I was reading for a paper I had in two day’s time.
“I’m sorry, I can’t date you. I’m with someone else. And don’t call me again. It’s better this way, you would not get hurt.”
When she hung up, I told myself that I would never be happy. Maybe it’s the cosmic way of maintaining balance, some people happy, others sad. I just felt cold. I faced my exams blindly, focusing all my energy into it. Only one friend knew what happened; she kept on insisting that I find a way of releasing the hurt I felt. But I couldn’t, not that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t.
Soon, the exams ended, we had our final party in the department, and everybody went their separate ways. For six months, I did not write a word, though I read more than I could count. To add to the pain in me, my results, when they came out, were just the same. My parents were outraged. My mother could not believe it.
“How could you have gotten these results? What were you doing all these years? We wasted our money on you then!” she shouted, eyes blazing with barely restrained fury. What could I have told them? My ever understanding father was also mad at me. Even my siblings were not happy, but they stood by me. The feeling that I had disappointed everyone was palpable; it was as if I was reeking of the disappointment I had brought on them. I can never forget how my uncle so famously put it, “To think that as the first child, these mediocre results are what you brought home, it’s a big shame.”
There was no way I could exonerate myself. I could not say that I had discovered a love for writing, for that would require my showing them all my writings (which were mostly about her). I just prayed that they would forgive me, for I realized that they laid too many expectations on me. And I didn’t live up to them.
Luckily, in the midst of all the turmoil, I got a job at the local branch of a bank. The pay was not much, but it was better than being at home. I worked at the bank for a year, all the while hating the job. I hardly had time for any other thing. Sometimes, I would be awake late into the night working on a story. Then I got my big break.
It came when I had finally decided to pursue a second degree in Pharmacy, and this time, vowing to give it all my attention and regain the lost honor I had. I was at work that morning when a friend of mine, a former course mate, walked in. She let out a whoop of joy, and at the angry look thrown at her by the customers, apologized profusely. Still, it was hard for her to contain her excitement. I was happy too at seeing her; she was one of those who encouraged my writing. Seeing her was indeed joyful for me.
She was not staying long at the hotel she lodged; as a matter of fact, she was leaving on Monday, and that day was a Friday, we decided to meet on Sunday. I went home that day, a happy man.
Sunday came and we saw. Chatting with her, you would not believe that almost two years had passed since we last saw each other. We settled into an easy talk, remembering our university days and getting hit by pangs of nostalgia. Slowly the talk shifted to how our lives had turned out. She informed me that she was now a travel journalist, and was scheduled to go to the Philippines for an international conference of journalists. When asked about myself, the events of the past year galloped back.
“My dear, things have not been rosy, believe me,” I answered, telling her about my encounter with my parents after school and the subsequent bank job. “I just feel suffocated as a banker. I think I would go for a second degree in Pharmacy,” I added. She also inquired about my writing, which I replied with a sad shake of the head.
“I don’t see writing taking me anywhere. It was just an attempt in futility.”
“Do you still have that your diary I read?” she calmly asked.
I did have the diary but I did not see any need for it and I said so. She just laughed and told me to mail it to her within the week. I reluctantly agreed. Then we returned to the more general topics. When evening came, we parted ways, with her reminding me to mail the diary to her.
Of course I did mail the diary. If not, I would not be telling this story. Two weeks after, she called me, saying that a friend of hers who was a publisher wanted to meet with me. I thought it was one of her constant jokes.
“You know, your joke is funny but I frankly think you should choose another time to tell it. I’m currently at work.”
“It’s not a joke stupid! I am dead serious. Just make arrangements to come over soon,” she said, incensed at being called a joker. Since she was angry, I chose to give her the benefit of the doubt. I did as she asked and true to her words, the publisher demanded to see me as soon as possible. I managed to extricate myself from work, and traveled to meet with him.
He was the exact opposite of what I expected a publisher to be. I usually thought them to be tall, arrogant, and totally unreasonable fellows, but this man was just… simple. He was tall and wiry, with a smile that stretched across his face. He had the habit of looking into your eyes while talking as if he could judge your intentions that way. He made it plain that he wanted me to write a book based on the diary.
“But none of those obscenities I saw there!”
I could hardly believe my luck. I promised to get to work immediately. As I went back to my hotel room, I felt as if I could have jumped and touched the sky. I’d never been that happy in years. I called my friend, thanking her immensely and promising to make it up to her.
The next four months were busy and hard. I had to shuttle between bank work and writing my book. And the editor assigned to me by the publisher didn’t help matters, at all. He was a strict man, canceling as much as twenty pages and calling them ‘fit for children’. He was experienced, I understood, but he could have at least been more caring. When I complained to the publisher, he just laughed and told me:
“That is him for you. You either work with him or you don’t. But believe me son, he’s the best.” I was stuck with him then. I tried harder, working very late into the night to meet up with his schedules and demands.
Dawn finally arrived, and when it did, it was worth it. Dawn in my life started the day I launched my first book titled ‘Door to Tomorrow’. The book’s title was yet another problem with my editor, but when I finally suggested that one after countless others, he finally acquiesced. The book turned out to be a bigger success than I imagined. It garnered praise from many reviewers and critics. I felt on top of the world. After my speech, one reporter asked me:
“What was your inspiration for this book?”
I closed my eyes, and saw her, still visible. As if I just needed to only reach out and touch her. It still hurt whenever I remembered it, that I could love so much and yet the love not be reciprocated. But I knew that I finally could get over her. I had found my element. For years, I’d been at lost as to what I would do with my life, and then she came and made me fall in love with her and novels; which led me to developing my writing skills. I had her to thank for that. She was the reason I was standing there.
In the silence of the auditorium where I held my book launch, I opened my eyes. Everyone was expectant, I smiled.
“Love,” I said, “Love is my muse.”